Heir'gor came instantly awake. The orc children were, as usual, up at an
unearthly hour and ruckusing about. 'In some
ways, they're very like human children', he
thought. As a bard, he had few illusions about
"innocent children", having observed them behaving just like adults, only
without the disguise of manners and social rules.
By now he had learned the orclings' names. Though they had been born in a
litter, orcs placed a great deal of importance on the birth order of their
babies. The firstborn was H'rok, then there was Ph'ragh, and the last was
M'ruk. The names translated loosely as Horse, Stone, and Fangs,
he guessed. He had figured out that young orcs had short names
which would be added to as they grew older, with descriptive adjectives
that suited. Kroch-cha translated to something like Good Female, due to
the fact that she had had three male children, all of which had survived,
and so enjoyed an unusually high status for a female orc.
Heir'gor watched the little orcs playing. A loud grunt came from
Kroch-cha, and he decided to get in her good
graces and take the children out so she could sleep. Maybe he could teach
them some games that didn't involve jumping on him. Orc children had very
physical games like Hunt the
Tirpan, Kill the Enemy (any other race),
and so on.
He didn't know much Kh'omchr'om yet, but one could convey a lot with
gestures. He rose and waved to the little orcs, indicating they should
follow him. Mostly out of curiosity, they did.
Heir'gor decided to teach them an old Kuglim children’s game called "Duck!" He
found a ball (an inflated animal bladder) and beckoned to the little orcs.
Then he indicated to them to stand some distance apart
and then mimed throwing the ball back and forth, trying to hit the one in the
“Throw the ball!”
“Yes, ball. Throw!” Heir’gor tossed the ball at M'ruk, in the center. He dodged
instinctively and turned on the bard with a snarl.
Hastily the bard explained,
“Kroch, kroch! (Good, good!) That’s what you’re
supposed to do.” He approximated an orcish smile by spreading back his lips to
show all his teeth. The orcling was somewhat puzzled by this response, for he
was expecting Heir’gor to cower in terror, but waited to see what would happen.
Heir’gor tossed the ball to the other two. They quickly got the idea and started
to play. Heir’gor sidled backwards toward the outskirts of the orc settlement,
carefully skirting the orc cattle herders and their animals. He pretended to
watch the animals for a moment. The massive beasts were, to him,surprisingly
well cared for. He edged a little further past the fence. Maybe he could escape…
“H’mmrt!” (Oh no you don’t, or, lit. ‘You won’t!’) The sentry knocked Heir’gor
to the ground, then leaned over, took hold of the Bard’s right foot, and
squeezed. Heir’gor cried out as his bones cracked.
He crawled back to the cave, the little orcs following curiously. Kroch’cha took
one look, picked him up bodily and carried him to the back room. Grumbling to
herself in incomprehensible gutterals, she crushed some alth’mon
leaves together with animal fat and smeared the resulting paste onto his foot.
This hurt so badly Heir’gor nearly bit through his lip from the pain, but then
the numbing took over and relaxed. Kroch’cha gave him a tea made from the same
leaves to drink.
She took care of him in a rough but not unkind way for the next few days, and
Heir’gor learned more about orcish healing methods
than he had ever wanted to know. Kroch-cha did not bother to set the bones and
the Bard knew he would have a permanent limp. But he was grateful enough just to
7 weeks later
Heir’gor huddled in a corner,
hoping to escape notice. The orcs were celebrating again. He knew that meant bad
news, and possibly more captives. His stomach twisted with nausea. He remembered
the screams from three nights ago, when they’d caught the Ashmari hunter and
given him to the young orcs for their amusement. He didn’t think he could stand
it again. Not, he thought bitterly, that I have a choice. At least his music had
saved him from a similar fate.
It had been ten weeks all in all.
He had nearly been killed several times, and only his flexibility had prevented
him from having broken limbs when one of the little orcs jumped at or on him.
Though Kroch’cha had rescued him once or twice, generally she tended to watch
her children maul him with what Heir’gor now recognized as an indulgent smile.
Heir’gor was missing the top part of one ear. He had tooth and claw marks all
over his body. He limped from the broken, and badly set bones in his foot. He
was thin and filthy, unrecognizable as the handsome young bard Vir’tiert had
He had learned enough of the orc tongue that he could follow some of what they
were saying. It seemed that they had encountered a party of the Diorye'oleal
elves and had brought some of the remains back with them. It didn’t sound like
any of those remains were still alive. He cautiously crept off to where the
little orcs were fighting over a leg bone in the back of the cave.
“H’rimt na p’tyr!” (Stop that!) he growled at them, trying to get the gutturals
“K’mrrt!” Ph'ragh responded, which Heir’gor recognized as the orcish equivalent
of “Shan’t!”. He sighed - this was their standard
response to both him and Kroch-cha, and
so he tried for a different approach.
“B’korraa?” he said invitingly. “‘Z’rovkya H’rok’?” (Music? ‘The Bearded
They dropped the leg bone and scampered towards him. They loved that particular
song, which Kroch-cha had taught Heir’gor, and which he had loosely translated
and set to his own language, since he could not sing in Kh’om’ch’rom without
getting a very sore throat. He sang softly, with dramatic gestures, which the
young orcs mimicked enthusiastically.
“The Bearded Horse!
It is strong, brave and fearless!
The Bearded Horse!
It has no equal!
The Losh Oc are like the Bearded Horse
They are strong, brave and fearless!
They have no equal!”
After he had repeated the song about six times, Kroch-cha intervened and dragged
her screeching children off to bed, cuffing them about the ears as they
squealed, “K’mrrt! K’mrrrrrrrrt! B’korraa rught!” (I won't! I woooonnn't! More
Heir’gor slunk quietly back to the main cavern where the adult males were
celebrating with a revolting drink called something like Yrr’la’h’rok, made from
fermented tirpan milk, crushed alth’mon
leaves and other mysterious substances he did not want to think about. He did
not want to go there, but he was starving, and he could usually get some of the
kragghi bean stew at the hearth. At least he knew what
was in that. He would not touch any meat prepared by the orcs, for, as he said
to himself, “It’s not what you might be eating so much as who.” Although the
orcs normally did not eat human meat, Heir'gor did not want to take any chances.
Giving the celebrating orcs a wide berth, he helped himself to the beans.
Suddenly Heir’gor was struck by the realization that there was no-one tending
the food. All the orc warriors were eating and drinking across the room and
paying no attention to him. He glanced around quickly, then, heart pounding,
reached for the shelf containing the herbs the orcs used for flavouring.
His hand closed over a package of alth’mon leaves.
Back in his corner, the Bard
shuddered all over with reaction. He was nauseated with fear, but he was
desperate. Hopefully they won’t notice the taste, he thought. Not only had he
emptied the container of alth’mon leaves into the
stew, he had added some additional kragghi sap to
disguise the taste. The orcs liked their food spicy. Heir’gor was not sure how
drastically the alth’mon leaves would affect the orcs,
but he knew healers used them to numb bodies. He reasoned that an overdose of
that amount would at least make the orcs very ill, particularly when combined
with the fermented drink they enjoyed.
He waited for what seemed like a long time. Finally, when there was no more
noise coming from the main area but loud orcish snores, he crept out, past the
females’ quarters and out a side entrance. He headed towards the latrines so as
to have an excuse if he was caught. But his luck held and no-one saw him step
from behind the latrine trenches into the Oro forest. The bard
looked up at the night sky. Oh Lier’tyan, Sur’tyan, protect your faithful child!
He turned towards the south, and then his nerve broke, and he began to run.
Heir’gor did not stop running until he staggered past a small dell carpeted with
poeritt vines. Their aromatic scent was heavy in the
air. The bard stared at them for a few moments and
then a tiny smile spread over his face. He moved carefully into the little
valley, picking berries and crushing them between his hands, then rubbing them
over his body. Then he continued southwards. When he was too exhausted to go on,
he curled up under some bushes and fell asleep.
Something shoved him, roughly. Heir’gor jolted into awareness, terror surging
through him and holding him immobile. He stared up into the long face of a small
tirpan, its large eyes wide and curious. It nudged him
again, then lipped his shirt hopefully. Obviously, it had been attracted by the
scent of the crushed berries he had rubbed over himself. Very, very carefully,
Heir’gor sat up. He reached out a hand to the horse, gently touching its muzzle
and neck. The tirpan stepped back, but seemed
unafraid. He wondered where the herd was, and then he realized that the little
horse was an outcast. She, for the horse was a mare, was nor’sidian black from
tufted ears to feathered hooves.
“Here, now,” the Bard said softly. “Come to me, my beauty. Come to me.” Turning
his head to the side so as not to seem too aggressive, he rose slowly to his
feet, murmuring softly. Cautiously, he approached her from the side. She turned
to face him and Heir'gor froze, recognizing the wariness of that action. He
looked away from her and made a soft nickering sound. She watched him for a
moment then turned sideways to him, which indicated that she had decided he was
not something to fear. The bard stepped towards her,
carefully moving alongside her body and then gently leaned against her. She
responded naturally by leaning into him. Heir’gor silently gave thanks that the
tirpans were normally gentle placid animals. Perhaps,
just perhaps, he could escape by horseback. He knew the orcs would be after him,
simply from sheer outrage at his daring to escape. And he knew they would not
allow him to live this time. He only hoped that he had slowed them down enough
by poisoning their food.
On horseback, he would have a chance to escape. Tirpans were not particularly
fast, but they could outrun wargs through sheer stamina, with enough of a head
start. Carefully the bard slid his leg up and over the
little mare’s back. She jumped and snorted, then gave a little buck, but
Heir’gor was on her back. She shuddered her coat as if flies were bothering her,
then settled down, turned her head around and nipped at his leg. But the
bard was ready for that trick and moved his leg so
quickly that the little mare's teeth grazed her own ribs. She awarded him what
could only be described as a dirty look. Heir’gor smiled, leaned forwards and
pressed his heels into her sides. He was a Kuglim - he
could ride anything! "I’ll call you Beina’gor
(dark sister)," he told the tufted ears. They
flicked backwards as if to acknowledge his words and for the first time in
nearly a season, Heir’gor laughed aloud.
They headed east, towards the sea. Heir’gor did not want to even try to get back
to his own tribe through the Oros, not with orcs on his trail. Nor did he want
to fight his way through the Tandalas. The further away he got, the less likely
it was that he would be recaptured. If he could get to the coast, he might be
able to get passage on a trade ship. And with Beina’gor, he would not need to
worry about finding water. Now that it was late summer, there would be food
available as well. Finally, Heir’gor began to feel a tiny flickering of hope.